“Che” lives, said Nick Gillespie, but what lives is a lie. The real Ernesto “Che” Guevara was far from the “youthful idealist” celebrated in film and transformed into a global icon, his “beret-bedecked” visage plastered on everything from beer labels to T-shirts. The Argentine revolutionary was in reality a rigid Marxist ideologue who believed in—and practiced—murder, torture, and censorship.
After gaining power in Castro’s post-revolutionary Cuba, he oversaw the execution of hundreds of political prisoners, becoming known as the “butcher of La Cabaña” prison. As the “effective czar of the Cuban economy,” Guevara’s dogmatic approach was a disaster, engendering the “economic basket case” that is modern Cuba. And despite his status in leftist culture, Che’s cultural influence was as illiberal as his economics; he banned both rock music and jazz as “imperialist.”
Yet the “romantic martyrdom” of his death at 39 still fuels a gauzy Che mythology. A sardonic T-shirt young Argentines have taken to wearing says it best: “‘I have a Che T-shirt, and I don’t know why.’”